Paul McCartney’s relationship with his former Beatles cohort John Lennon was a unique one. With the two now-iconic musicians bonded in the most heartbreaking of ways, the shared bond which brought them together as teenagers has led to the two of them becoming as close as family.
Lennon’s death understandably hit McCartney to the core, a pain which still hurts almost 40 years after the shooting. The relationship they shared was one that was almost spiritual, the two had been through thick and thin together and the foundations of their connection was built on shared grief.
When McCartney lost his mother aged just 14-years-old, it devastated him and his childhood disintegrated overnight. Suddenly he was forced to grow up in an instant, take the reigns of his family unit, and start becoming a provider. Similarly, John Lennon was also left traumatised following his mother’s sudden death which occurred when he was just 17, an incident which McCartney helped him through immensely, relating with John in a way that nobody else could.
Speaking in Anthology, McCartney opened up about the grief that he suffered in his childhood which completely tore him apart. Macca bravely confessed: “My mum dying when I was fourteen was the big shock in my teenage years. She died of cancer, I learnt later. I didn’t know then why she had died. My mum wanted us to speak properly and aspired to speak the Queen’s English. One of my most guilty feelings is about picking her up once on how she spoke. She pronounced ‘ask’ with a long ‘a’ sound. And I said, ‘Oh – ‘aark’! That’s ‘ask’, mum,’ and I really took the piss out of her. When she died, I remember thinking, ‘You asshole, why did you do that? Why did you have to put your mum down?’ I think I’ve just about got over it now, doctor.”
He then continued his honest admission: “My mother’s death broke my dad up. That was the worst thing for me, hearing my dad cry. I’d never heard him cry before. It was a terrible blow to the family. You grow up real quick because you never expect to hear your parents crying. You expect to see women crying, or kids in the playground or even yourself crying – and you can explain all that. But when it’s your dad, then you know something’s really wrong and it shakes your faith in everything. But I was determined not to let it affect me. I carried on. I learnt to put a shell around me at that age. There was none of this sitting at home crying – that would be recommended now, but not then.”
Macca then revealed how this was the thing that brought him and Lennon even closer than they already were because he knew exactly what his best friend was going through, adding: “That became a very big bond between John and me, because he lost his mum early on, too. We both had this emotional turmoil which we had to deal with and, being teenagers, we had to deal with it very quickly. We both understood that something had happened that you couldn’t talk about – but we could laugh about it because each of us had gone through it. It wasn’t OK for anyone else. We could both laugh at death – but only on the surface. John went through hell, but young people don’t show grief – they’d rather not. Occasionally, once or twice in later years, it would hit in. We’d be sitting around and we’d have a cry together; not often, but it was good.”
In 1984, McCartney made the same revelation to Playboy’s Joan Goodman in which he said that humour was their shared defence mechanism for battling their grief: “Our way of facing it at that age was to laugh at it… not in our hearts but on the surface. It was sort of a wink thing between us. When someone would say, ‘And how’s your mother?’ John would say, ‘She died.’ We’d know that that person would become incredibly embarrassed and we’d almost have a joke with it. After a few years, the pain subsided a bit. It was a bond between us, actually; quite a big one, as I recall. We came together professionally afterwards. And as we became a writing team, I think it helped our intimacy and our trust in each other.”